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Iraqi Government, Al-Sadr Movement Agree to Cease-Fire in Sadr City

Spokesmen for the Iraqi government and the movement of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr say the two sides agreed to a truce Saturday to end weeks of fighting in Baghdad's Sadr City. Hundreds of people have been killed in clashes between militants and government forces there since fighting intensified in late March. VOA's Suzanne Presto has more from the northern city of Irbil.

An aide to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi, says the cease-fire in eastern Baghdad's Sadr City will go into effect on Sunday.

According to the deal struck between the government's United Iraqi Alliance and the Sadrist movement, militants belonging to the Mahdi Army will not engage in further fighting with Iraqi and coalition troops in Sadr City.

In an interview on Iraqi news, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said this cease-fire applies only to Sadr City. He says militants there must put away their weapons for their own safety and that of the area's citizens.

He says the first thing will be to stop any shooting and to remove bombs on the roads. He says if any person holds a weapon, he will be targeted by the security forces.

Dabbagh said that private courts operating in Sadr City outside of the Ministry of Justice must immediately stop their operations. He emphasized that only the government has the authority to provide protection or to enforce laws.

Dabbagh added that the military will go through official channels to detain people he deemed to be "outlaws."

He said the government will control checkpoints around Sadr City, but the area will not be cordoned off entirely.

Sadr's movement had called on the government to stop random raids against al-Sadr's followers and to open roads that lead to the city.

Dabbagh is also calling on all groups to cooperate to improve security for the sake of Iraqi citizens.

He says providing people with security and a suitable calm is the Iraqi government's main aim, and he says he is certain that members of al-Sadr's group feel the responsibility for this belongs to them, as well.

He added that militants loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr now acknowledge that they cannot be permitted to act outside of the government.

Dabbagh says everyone agrees that the security responsibility belongs to the government and the government only, not to militia or armed groups.

Dabbagh says if the truce is successful in Sadr City, the government will attempt to extend it to other regions where fighting rages.

Elsewhere, in the northern city of Mosul, Iraqi military forces, backed by Coalition troops, are beginning a new phase of their campaign against al-Qaida in Iraq there.

The military has closed off main roads leading to Mosul to prevent militants from smuggling weapons and car bombs into the city.